[PHOTO AT LEFT - Angelo Que is all pumped up after a birdie at The Country Club. MANNY MARCELO]

STA. ROSA, LAGUNA, JANUARY 31, 2010 (STAR) By Dante Navarro - Angelo Que lived on a windy day, scrambling with a one-over par 71 to pull away with a whopping six-shot lead over defending champion Artemio Murakami as his pursuers tumbled down one after the other in brutal conditions yesterday at The Country Club here.

Except for one fancied player who threatened to accomplish what he had failed to do in 2006, the 25-player surviving field floundered as the howling wind blew from all over, sending the scores soaring and the contenders falling down from the leaderboard.

The 31-year-old Que, showing maturity in his game, nearly came out unscathed from a bogey-bogey start as he battled back with three birdies in a five-hole stretch from No. 3 then bucked his three bogeys at the back with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 14th and three saved pars.

The former Philippine Open champion closed out with a two-over 37 for that 71 that proved enough to put the veteran Asian Tour campaigner within 18 holes of winning his second TCC plum after battling from four shots behind to beat Elmer Salvador in 2007. He assembled a 54-hole aggregate of 207.

Artemio Murakami, who beat Que by a record 13 shots last year, took the challenger’s role with a two-over 72 and a 213 as erstwhile pursuers Joenard Rates and Juvic Pagunsan reeled back with atrocious rounds in a day when over par scores proved to be a rule rather than exception.

“No lead is safe here,” said Que as he tried to downplay his title chances in the P4.7 million event on a course that changes in character in every swirl of the wind. “But it is indeed a big cushion. Medyo maluwag.”

With Frankie Miñoza finally making his move, nothing is sure indeed as the most fancied player in the fold flashed vintage form and shot the day’s lone under par score - a three-under 67.

Miñoza, who barely made it to the weekend play at 148, birdied three of the first five holes when the wind was at its manageable level then mixed two birdies against two bogeys the rest of the way to complete a stirring round of 33-34.

He had a 215, still eight strokes off Que but will remain the player to watch in the final round of the event put up by ICTSI chairman and CEO Ricky Razon and which offers a top purse of P1.45 million.

Miñoza’s third round brilliance brought to mind his solid closing two 68s in 2006 when he fought back from nine strokes down at the rear end of the final 36 roster to force a playoff for the crown with Pagunsan, who eventually won the title to herald his pro debut.

Dottie Ardina remained the top amateur with a 214 after a four-over 74 as she tied Marvin Dumandan, also carding a 74, at third although the top ICTSI team mainstay will have the honor of joining the championship flight of Que and Murakami today.

Pagunsan, who also beat Que to notch his second TCC win in 2008, skidded with a five-over 75 to drop into a tie with Miñoza and unheralded Ramil Bisera, who carded a 73, while Rates, who surprised the field with a 67 in the first round, skied to a 78 for a 216.

Mars Pucay and amateur Mhark Fernando both turned in 76s and were bunched with reigning RP Open champion and last year’s Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit winner Elmer Salvador (77) in ninth place with 218s.

Like the rest, Que, a British Open veteran, also struggled under demanding condition, hitting just four fairways and nine greens. But he made up for this with an impeccable short game, saving pars three times that he went out of regulation while sinking four birdies, including a 30-footer on No. 3.

He was shooting for an even par round but he dumped his approach shot on the tough par-4 18th on the frontside bunker and needed two putts for his fifth bogey.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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